India: Water-Water, Sari Modesty, and Not Urinating Here
August 23, 2010
If you want to order two waters, what you want is “water-water.”
As all visitors to India note with some surprise, the “bobblehead” gesture means “I get it.” It does not mean “so-so” or “maybe” which is what an American might assume from someone moving his head in a figure-eight pattern. (Although one published source says the head-bobble can mean “I don’t care!”)
One of the most striking features of India is the incredible underutilization of human capital — everywhere, security guards who do nothing but sit all day, guarding something that is not exactly under siege, such as a high school or a clothing store. Or, a coconut cart manned by three men where one would be more than enough. An empty coffee shop with two people behind the counter plus a waiter — if you want takeaway, the waiter will get your order and repeat it to the guy behind the counter. It’s nice to have wait service sometimes, but the (apparently) incredibly cheap cost of labor can’t be fun for those working.
In India, showing your shoulders is considered somewhat provocative. However, everyone’s grandmother is wearing a sari top that exposes rolls of back fat. The Air India flight attendants wear sari-like uniforms that allow anyone sitting down (at stomach-height) to see their stomachs. At a restaurant, I saw a white woman with old-school mom hair wearing a gorgeous sari (it looked weird on her, but she was very tanned, so it at least looked like she’d been here awhile and not like she’d arrived yesterday and decided to wear a sari). Every time she got up, she had to readjust all her fabric to cover her wobbly stomach. Goes to show that our ideas of modesty are all a bit arbitrary.
There are virtually no ATMs. They are very, very hard to find — only inside a bank location, never freestanding. People seem to pay for a lot of things with their mobile accounts — a billboard suggests that, “If you love just one thing” (image: handsome man holding a baby in a way that seems to really be straining his bulging biceps), you can subscribe to Youtube, Facebook, or Twitter alone for 10 rupees/month. I can’t seem to buy WiFi at an internet cafe without a working mobile — I’m at a cafe now and paid for wireless with my credit card, but then they send the password to your mobile. The coffeeshop waiter gave me his mobile number, so I’m writing this while waiting for him to receive a text message with the password I paid for. It’s been awhile. I’ve got a paneer sandwich and a pot of chai to work on while I compose this list.
A wall that says “Do not urinate” on it every ten feet is kind of worse than a wall that people urinate on. At least a wall that people urinate on is nice after every rainfall. I mean, would you want to own a bucket that said “Do not shit in this bucket,” even if it were the cleanest bucket in town?